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As Media Day approaches, Kyrie Irving’s vaccination status comes center stage

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Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets - Game Seven Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

There’s nothing official about the Nets vaccination status, other than Sean Marks statement Tuesday that a “couple” of players wouldn’t be cleared to play under New York City’s regulations if the season opened this week, but was confident everyone would be in compliance by Opening Night on October 19. Of course, there was the report by Yaron Weitzman of FOX Sports since then that Kyrie Irving is one of that “couple.”

But with Media Day on Monday, there is reasonable expectation that things will come into clearer focus as players will speak with the national and local press. How much Irving will say remains open. Reports indicate that he sees his decision not to get jabbed as a private one.

In fact, as of Sunday morning, it appeared likely that Media Day will yield a definitive update on the Nets overall compliance with the city regs — which the league endorses — including on Irving. That confidence Marks expressed Tuesday may bear some fruit earlier than Opening Night. The Nets want to get this behind them as quickly as possible, so they can focus on training camp which begins Tuesday in San Diego and the season less than a month away.

Under city regulations, unvaccinated players may not play, practice or participate in team activities, which presumably would include Media Day.

In the interim, they will have to deal with the latest round of stories on Irving and the vaccine. Matt Sullivan, author “Can’t Knock the Hustle” on the Nets rebuild, writes in Rolling Stone that Irving will not seek a religious exemption from the New York and NBA rules. Those rules, in effect since earlier this month, prohibit unvaccinated players from playing, practicing or participating in “team activities” within the city. (The Knicks are fully vaccinated.)

Sullivan reports that instead Irving wants to wait out the process, hoping he — and others —can get the league to back down or modify its position. If not, he’s willing to miss some games. His reporting is based on a conversation with Irving’s aunt Tyki Irving, who essentially confirmed Irving’s status as unvaccinated, on his thinking...

“There are so many other players outside of him who are opting out, I would like to think they would make a way,” says Kyrie’s aunt, Tyki Irving, who runs the seven-time All-Star’s family foundation and is one of the few people in his regular circle of advisors. “It could be like every third game. So it still gives you a full season of being interactive and being on the court, but with the limitations that they’re, of course, oppressing upon you. There can be some sort of formula where the NBA and the players can come to some sort of agreement.”

Tyki Irving also told Sullivan a bit on her nephew’s position on vaccination and his feelings regarding the pressure that will now likely mount on him. Sullivan writes...

“He is going to try to figure that out as it comes, because it’s not religious-based, it’s moral-based,” says Irving’s aunt Tyki. “You may have to sit on the sideline, you might not have to be in the arena during this. If it’s that freaking important to get a vaccine that, hell, it’s still not preventing the Covid” — which it is — “then I’d rather them working it out that way than to say, ‘Hey, if you don’t get the vaccine, then you can’t be a part of the franchise that you fuckin’ helped build.’”

Irving’s aunt also said Media Day Monday could be eventful.

Irving’s aunt expected him to discuss vaccine hesitancy in the Black community, as well as the tragic experiments on sharecroppers in Tuskegee, while “providing just as much knowledge and research base that you necessarily don’t have to take this vaccine — some of it is fake news, some of it is fake information, some of it is Doctor False-y, you don’t really know.”

How much Irving’s aunt reflects his personal feelings is unknown. Nor is it known what Irving will say when asked about things Monday. Of course, we won’t know until Monday. Sullivan wrote that “a spokeswoman for Irving declined to respond to a list of questions regarding his vaccination and playing status, and Irving did not immediately respond to a message from Rolling Stone.” The Nets have steadily declined comment on the status of any individual’s vaccination, citing HIPAA privacy laws.

Beyond talking with Irving’s aunt, Sullivan also pointed to some of the player’s online activity...

Irving, who serves as a vice president on the executive committee of the players’ union, recently started following and liking Instagram posts from a conspiracy theorist who claims that “secret societies” are implanting vaccines in a plot to connect Black people to a master computer for “a plan of Satan.”

Whether that reflects Irving’s personal views is not known either. He regularly engages in debate on a number of things.

Irving of course is not alone among unvaccinated NBA players. Shams Charania has reported that 10 percent of the roughly 500 players who make up the NBA remain unvaccinated. Along with Andrew Wiggins of the Warriors, Irving is the most high profile NBA player unvaccinated. On Friday, the NBA declined to grant Wiggins an exemption on religious grounds. Jonathan Isaac of the Magic is also “proudly unvaccinated,” reports Sullivan. Jonathan Isaac of the Magic is also unvaccinated.

On Tuesday, Marks was careful not to comment on who has been vaccinated, focusing instead on compliance. It was in that regard that he expressed confidence that by Opening Night the issue will be resolved.

“I won’t get into who it is, but we feel confident in the following several days before camp everybody would be allowed to participate and so forth,” said Marks in a carefully worded statement.

He also noted that there have been “very candid conversations” between the team and the holdouts.